November 29, 2013

A Miss Nelson Moment

During my first year teaching, I kept track of funny quotes and situations from the classroom as a way to stay optimistic.  It was easy to get lost in the difficulties of first-year teaching, and neglect the lighter moments with my kiddos, so I learned to pick out at least 1 positive moment each day.  I'm grateful that I no longer need quotes to keep me afloat, but there are still some hilarious moments that I don't want to forget.

Fortunately, I now have this blog to help me keep track of them!  One of these moments came last week...

I had intended to be out of the classroom on Thursday to observe in other teachers' classrooms for the morning.  I had prepped my kiddos the day before and didn't plan on seeing them in until the afternoon.  However, about 20 minutes into my first observation, I learned that another teacher had called out sick, so the substitute scheduled to cover my class was going to pulled for the rest of the day.

I happened to have worn my glasses that day and a new button down shirt (not my contacts and usual version of a knit top), so as I walked into the classroom, I got some sideways glances from the kiddos.  When the substitute left the room, one of the kiddos asked cautiously, "Are you our new substitute?" I had a flash of the classic book, Miss Nelson Is Missing, where the sweet teacher "disappears" for a few days and is replaced by the mean Viola Swamp who straightens out the unruly students and makes them realize how much they love Miss Nelson.  I decided to give it a try...

"Sure," I answered, "Show me what you are supposed to do." For the next 45-minutes, I watched as my kiddos lead Morning Meeting, dismissed themselves to their Literacy Stations, and then cleaned up from Literacy Stations and went to their reading spots for independent reading.  I gave a few cues and prompts, but resisted the urge to step in much more. Instead, as the kiddos worked, I took the opportunity to give a few one-on-one assessments.

Of course, I didn't really have most of the kiddos fooled, and unlike Viola Swamp, I didn't have to be a nastier, stricter teacher to get the class into shape.  In fact, it was impressive to see how capable they were of taking over many of the classroom routines.  It was actually a relief to take a break from the nagging and reminding that I've been doing way too much of over the past couple of weeks.  Lesson: I just might have to be "out of the classroom" again sometime soon...

November 23, 2013

Exploring the Elements

Yesterday we took our first "mini field trip" of the year.  As part of our unit on living and nonliving things, I wanted to give the kiddos a chance to see some living things in action, so we went to the park across the street from our school to explore our local environment.  

To be honest, I feel like this trip was a little contrived. While I was planning the unit, I wasn't sure whether the kids would actually be excited to observe rocks and air . . . but leave it to firsties to get pumped about the littlest things. As we assigned the teams before we went to the park, the kiddos were cheering for their groups.  You would have thought the "Air" group won the lottery!  {And that's why I love them.}
Once we were in the park, the kiddos made their observations.  We had four observation groups: Air, Rocks, Soil, and Water.  Fortunately, it had drizzled earlier in the day so there were puddles for the water group to check out.  The air group even got lucky because there was a bit of breeze.  They noticed so many things floating around them!  The kiddos made scientific drawings of the moss on the rocks, the worms in the soil, the leaves in the water, and the ladybugs in the air.  Wow!

Once they had completed their observations, the kiddos sorted the items they'd found into living and nonliving features.  My goal was for them to begin to recognize the variety of living and nonliving things around them.  Over the next couple of weeks, we will be learning about how organisms interact with their environments, so these observations will also be the starting place for that discussion.  Despite the fact that we could see the school over the hedges, and they were observing rocks, the kiddos had a great time!  I'm really looking forward to the rest of this unit!

November 22, 2013

Roll & Cover Phonics Game

This week I added two new games to our Phonics Station: "Short Vowel Roll & Cover" and "Long Vowel Roll & Cover."  I wanted to get the kids listening carefully for the middle vowel sound, so this seemed like the perfect simple game.  I try to avoid adding extra worksheets to our paper-heavy classroom, so this was also an easy "when you're finished" activity.  
It was a big hit among the kiddos. In fact, one kiddo even declared in a moment of triumph, "BEST GAME EVER!"  :)

November 9, 2013

We are Thankful

A few weeks ago, our Responsive Classroom committee got together to discuss our upcoming community bulletin board.  This board is something new that we instituted this year.  We wanted a place, on the first floor, to showcase community, diversity, and learning from around the school.  Our first bulletin board had the teachers' "hopes and dreams" for the school year.  Then we took pictures of kiddos around the school performing common routines and procedures, like walking in the hallway and hanging up their coats.

For our most recent board, we invited every kiddo in the school to share what they are thankful for on a half-sheet of paper.  In my own class, I read Splat says Thank You to introduce the idea of being thankful.  I'd never even heard of this great book until one of the other amazing first grade teachers told me about it.  My kiddos loved Splat and Seymour and the story was so sweet!  Plus, it definitely sent home the message about the importance of showing gratitude for others.  

Here are two of my favorites from the firsties:

Throughout the week, teachers turned in their classes' forms to me.  I compiled them onto a bulletin board with the title "We are thankful."  Around the edge of the board, another teacher printed out "thank you" in a variety of languages and fonts.  I love the resulting diversity on this board: some teachers took dictation, there's lots of invented spelling, older kiddos tried out cursive handwriting, and the pictures range from stick figures to full-color sketches.  There is also a lot of variety in what we are thankful for -- many kiddos were thankful for their family, friends, and pets, but we also got everything from candy to football. 

My favorite thing about this board though, was actually putting it up.  While I was in the midst of stapling, a couple of kindergarteners walked by with their moms asked what I was doing.  I explained the project and the kiddos recalled writing their own thankful notes.  They began selecting sheets for me to post up and reading each of the cards.  They were so excited that one of them pulled a notebook out of her backpack and began to create a list of other things she for which she was thankful!  So sweet!

*I ran out of room on the board, so now we have notes of thanks covering the windows to the office and library as well -- what a great thing to see when we walk around the halls! :) 

November 7, 2013

What Does It Mean to Be American?

We've just wrapped up our American Symbols unit.  I loved this unit last year and I didn't change too much about this for this year.  Once again, this unit was a big hit with the kiddos.  First graders just love learning about national symbols!  I think this is probably, in part, because once they learn these symbols they find them everywhere: there are bald eagles on quarters, on top of flag poles, on signs all over DC!

 Toward the end of this unit, I had the kiddos choose an American symbol to write about it on our banner paper.  They had to write the name of the symbol and any common names for it.  They also included what the symbol looks like, stands for, and why it is important.  This served as a great assessment to see what kiddos had learned and remembered about each of the symbols.  This could easily be made into a book with each of the symbols, although this year I just had them each do one.

I also had the kiddos write the meaning and importance of the civic values we learned about, such as liberty, independence, courage, and fairness.  It was interesting to see the things that the kiddos pulled out from all of our discussions and stories.  The kiddos were very impressed that America had won independence from the British (I tried to stress that America and Britain now get along, but I think the firsties might still have hard feelings!)  They certainly got the point that Americans value bravery and freedom.

I put up a bulletin board today to showcase our learning from this unit.  I titled the board "What does it mean to be a American?" because our focus has really been on how all of these symbols and values connect to our history and culture as Americans.  This board is actually on the first floor (not in front of our classroom) so it will get a lot of traffic.  Already, I've seen other kiddos walking by getting excited to see familiar symbols and words! That's bulletin board success in my mind :)

November 3, 2013

Update on Character Education

Last year I posted (here) about the character education "program" I created for my class.  I have continued to use the acronym "STAR" to teach my students about character qualities, but this year I took it a little further.  I wanted the kiddos to notice their peers' positive behavior on a regular basis so I created "compliment cards" for them to write a note to a friend who demonstrates a STAR action (they write what they observe on the back).

The kiddos love writing and receiving these cards!  Plus, families love getting these notes home to see what great things their kiddo has been doing at school.  One mom even said she was thinking about bringing them out at home so that her family could recognize each other for strong character.

I also updated the look of the STAR posters with my new clipart!

Update on STAR Books: 

This year I used Lily's Purple Plastic Purse again to teach about "Show Self-Control."  Lily is a great example of how challenging it can be to show self-control; the kiddos definitely identify with her when they have something exciting they want to share but need to wait.  

I chose Dream Big, Little Pig by Kristi Yamaguchi as our primary teaching text for "Try and Persevere."  The kiddos and I love Poppy Pig, but I'm sure there are other books that might reinforce the importance of trying and persevering to achieve a goal a little more directly.  

I use Ruthie and the (Not So) Teeny Tiny Lie, by Laura Rankin, to teach about Acting with Integrity.  I adore the illustrations and language in this book.  The kiddos can identify easily with Ruthie as well, which is great for referencing integrity in other situations (i.e. "Remember what Ruthie had to do...).  

Finally, this year I used Jamaica's Blue Marker to teach about Responding Helpfully.  This books is actually more about empathy and perspective than about being helpful, but that's part of why I love it.  All of the "Jamaica" books are great and this one is especially powerful.  It explores such a real and difficult fact about being at school -- sometimes other kids are mean -- so I think it really hits home with my kiddos.

I'm still on the lookout for more books to use a "mentor texts" for each of the character traits that are part of STAR.  I suspect I'll need to do to review of STAR when we get back from Winter Break, so I know I'll need some new books to keep things interesting.

Reflecting on Our Learning

Another post from a few weeks ago...

As the kiddos prepared for our "Celebration of Learning," I wanted to have them reflect on what they had learned and enjoyed during the beginning of the school year.  (Truthfully, I also needed something to put on the back of the invitation to the Celebration of Learning.)

However, this short assignment also allowed me to gather some interesting information about what had really soaked in during those first few weeks.  I think I might need to do a similar reflection at the end of each of our units!

* "Being a STAR" refers to our character education program (read more here).

Celebration of Learning

Whoops! Forgot to hit "publish" on this post from a few weeks ago...

This year, my school has a new "Celebration Policy" which outlines expectations for school and classroom events.  Specifically, we will no longer have cupcakes for birthdays, or a costume parade at Halloween (you can read about last year's Halloween Parade here).   Instead, we will continue to teach, read, learn, and share about holidays as they come up during the year; we will continue to honor students with stories and special activities on their birthdays; and we will continue to invite families in to celebrate students' achievements throughout the year.

The goal of the new policy is to keep the focus on the students (and less on candy, costumes, or cards), and to celebrate what matters -- their hard work and accomplishments.  Personally, I also wanted to find better ways of including my families in celebrations, not just providing them with a photo opportunity.  
As I searched for suggestions about how to celebrate with my students and their families, I found this great article on the Responsive Classroom website about "Learning Celebrations."  The author expresses the same concern I've had, "The parties and celebrations had their benefits, but they didn't fully achieve the purpose I had in mind."

I decided to host my own learning celebration to honor the end of the first six weeks of school (all classes at my school are required to host a family event at this time of the year).  As we neared the end of the first six weeks of school, I began to talk with my kiddos about how far we'd come since the start of school.  I pointed out all of procedures we'd practiced, books we'd read, and lessons we'd completed.  We talked about how we could share these things with our families.  The kiddos were so excited about the idea that their parents could come in see them do "first grade things"!

On Friday afternoon, our classroom filled with adults and the kiddos got to show off their first grade skills.  They read to their parents from their book bins and personal narrative stories.  They taught their parents how to do a word sort and how to play the "Roll and Record" game at the math table.  They showed their parents how to write compliment notes to their peers.  Finally, we all sat around the carpet to do a Closing Meeting.  The parents and kiddos shared their "highs" and "lows" of the day -- almost everyone agreed that the high of the day was spending time together celebrating our learning!

I realized that not only was this learning celebration an opportunity to truly include our families in our learning, but it was a great review for the kiddos, and allowed us to have some important discussions about families and celebrations.  As the kiddos created invitations for their families a couple weeks ago, we talked about how some parents don't live in the same house and some kiddos might make more than one invitation.  Then we talked about how some parents work far away or can't take off work to come to school.  My sweet kiddos immediately suggested that if a friend didn't have a parent attend, they would "share" their parents.  We talked about the importance of being able to share the things we've learned so that our parents would learn about our community.  It was so special to see parents and kids side-by-side counting, reading, spelling, laughing, and smiling -- definitely a highlight of my teaching career!